Saudi-led coalition claimed it targeted a military storage facility run by Houthi rebels
More than 100 people are believed to have been killed in an airstrike by the Saudi-led military coalition on a detention centre in Yemen, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The coalition said it had targeted a facility run by Houthi rebels that “stores drones and missiles”, but the rebels said the attack had levelled a building they used as a prison.
The ICRC rushed to the scene in the city of Dhamar with medical teams and hundreds of body bags.
“The location that was hit has been visited by ICRC before,” said Franz Rauchenstein, the committee’s head of delegation for Yemen. “It’s a college building that has been empty and has been used as a detention facility for a while. What is most disturbing is that [the attack was] on a prison. To hit such a building is shocking and saddening – prisoners are protected by international law.”
Rauchenstein said more than 100 people were estimated to be dead and at least 40 survivors were being treated for their injuries in hospitals in the city, south of the capital, Sana’a.
ICRC teams collecting bodies were “working relentlessly to find survivors under the rubble”, he said, but cautioned that the chances of finding any were very slim.
Footage obtained by AFP showed heavy damage to the building and several bodies lying in the rubble, as bulldozers worked to clear away huge piles of debris.
The coalition intervened in 2015 to support the government after the Iran-aligned Houthis swept out of their northern stronghold to seize Sana’a and much of Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest nations.
Fighting since then has claimed tens of thousands of lives and sparked what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Both sides stand accused of actions that could amount to war crimes. The coalition has been blacklisted by the UN for the killing of children, while Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse the Houthis of using civilians as human shields in densely populated areas.
Before the ICRC’s comments, the coalition had insisted the strike was conducted against “a military compound which was a legitimate military target”.
It said secondary explosions indicated the building was used to store weapons and that the Houthis were masking its identity by “claiming it was a secret prison”.
“This is a traditional Houthi tactic and a violation of the laws of armed conflict. This site was not registered with the United Nations [and] was not on the no-strike list,” said a coalition spokesman, Col Turki Al-Malk.
The coalition earlier said that it “took all precautionary measures to protect civilians”, but the Houthi television channel Almasirah said dozens of people had been killed and wounded in seven airstrikes that hit the building.